Why Are We Embracing Tohu Va’vohu?

Originally published on The Jewish Press, November 8, 2019.

We have no boundaries anymore. 

Life used to be a bit simpler. A man was a man, a woman was a woman, and they would marry, procreate, and pass on. Then the same cycle would repeat itself, over and over again, in much the same way. 

Over time, perhaps the last hundred years or so, people have been tearing down the appropriate barriers between men and women, leading to a loss of respect for others and respect for oneself. Affairs run rampant, marriages and families are trampled on.

Today, we see an even more drastic shift away from long-held norms in mainstream culture: procreation is delayed or completely avoided, babies are rejected in utero, gender is fluid, and marriage is no longer exclusive to a man and a woman. What should be private is public. Vulnerability is on full display on social media. Women, screaming against objectification, objectify themselves on social media and in real life, on full display for all. 

We have rather quickly transitioned into a society that smacks of Orwell’s famed dystopia in 1984. Language is often the main feature of a society to be poisoned before the rest follows. In Orwell’s seminal work, we learn that society is one where there is no pronounced distinction between males and females. In this dystopia, everything has been inverted:

War is peace

Freedom is slavery

And ignorance is strength

Our “progressive” society follows all of the above, and the following could be added:

Evil is good

Ungodliness is sacred

Virtue is sin

We live in a society in which words are stripped of their meaning and new ones are forced in their place; a society in which gender is a mere social construct and children are fair game for grooming, normalized abuse, and murder. We have opened the great cosmic can of worms and realized, to our dismay, that we have reintroduced tohu va’vohu to the world. Tohu va’vohu, that initial formless void, a kind of emptiness we could never fathom, which existed before creation. In essence, we have rejected God’s act of creation and drawing of distinctions by embracing a deceased reality: the reality before the drawing of the boundary lines, before God separated between the light and the darkness, when the heavens and earth had no distinction, and there was no light. 

We are rejecting the act of creation even in our own selves. We are treating our own wombs, pregnant with the ripening fruit of human life, as a formless void, devoid of meaning or substance. We are conveniently hitting the “delete” key on our mistakes, turning the other cheek to our own perversions.

The Parshat Hashavuah is Bereshit, the story of creation:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void* (tohu va’vohu), with darkness over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness.

Genesis 1:1-4

The first act of creation, the first story God wants to tell in the Torah, is one of boundary lines. So what does this mean? That without boundaries, without distinctions between light and dark, heavens and earth, man and woman, we are void, empty. Tohu va’vohu. 

These days, it is common to see the proper boundary lines being dissolved. We are throwing away the very first lines in Bereshit, the very first concept God wishes to share with the world. The concept that, whatever we may think, there ARE clear distinctions between males and females (“male and female He created them…”). There are rules for this world, for the way we conduct ourselves.

When you push away truth with both hands, it comes back to bite you – hard. Fleeing from reality can only take you so far. We will reap what we sow, and if we sow chaos, we will reap chaos. We have upturned seemingly old and irrelevant conventions, exposed what should be private, and flaunted our new immorality with all the fervor of a child who has finally gotten his way. And, like that child who will later learn his lesson, we will learn ours. But the tohu va’vohu we will have introduced will leave its mark until we learn to redraw the boundary lines. 

And when we finally learn to redraw those boundary lines, to renew the act of creation – to truly become partners in creation – God will create a new heaven and a new earth. And this will be the new Gan Eden, but on a higher dimension. 

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the first ones shall not be remembered, neither shall they come into mind.

Isaiah 65:17

We renewed this cycle of tohu va’vohu, but eventually it will lead to a new creation, a new dimension.

Now, we wait for God once again to say:

“In the beginning…”


*- In other places, “tohu va’vohu” is translated as: astonishingly empty

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